Esmeralda– A First Look

The process of design cannot begin to be complete without some form of critique, use, implementation: Input from others is vital to the success of the design.  Working in the graduate studio provides many such opportunities and it becomes the responsibility of the designer to heed each of these suggestions while still maintaining a personal grasp of his or her ideas.  One has to know how to hear objectively what others are saying about the project and to use those suggestions to perfect the idea.  At the same time though, as designers, we also have to know which ideas should not be lost, which aspects must remain.

Every project, it seems, will go through any number of permutations before coming to some sort of conclusion.  For me, Esmeralda changed significantly as I continued to work on it.  This is, for the most part, the reason for making these models.  I had an idea in mind to begin with.  Just loose.  But bounded by the story of the place and the limitations of the project.  I concentrated on the winding streets and on the canal system.  I discovered, for example, that placing both elements on a single plane created a very chaotic place.  Thus, I began working on two planes simultaneously.  I would move a few elements– long strips, small squares– around the datum plane and then place a model person fashioned from twisted wire on the foam core ground of Esmeralda.  Instantly, I could see that the landscape wasn’t working.  Something about the bulk of the wall compared to the scrawny figure was overpowering and intimidating.

This process continued for some time.  About ten hours were spent actually working with the foam core: Cutting, pinning, moving.  Some of this was done in the studio with my fellow MLA students working on their own projects.  Most of it was completed at home in a very solitary and experimental way.

Eventually, the time would come to prepare for the in-class pin-up.  I would have one minute to explain my project along with all the other presentations and then be subject to criticism from my peers and my professors. This was sort of nerve-wracking. My presentation skills probably need as much honing as my design skills.

The projects all varied considerably even though the restrictions were so limiting. Some were very horizontal and low and sprawling while others were built several stories high with expansive catwalks and perilous distances.  One person constructed her ground plane as a rough topography with sheer cliffs, another designed his with passageways secreted between the planes.  It took about three hours to look at all of the Invisible Cities.  The running commentary was something like:

….scale must be at the forefront of your design to be successful… don’t forget the rectilinear guidelines… form your space rather than implying it using repetition, the edge, symmetry, horizontal versus vertical planes… the intent of your design should be obvious at this stage… chaos or order… words = pictures… if Esmeralda is Venice– which it is— you have to focus on the horizontality… we need to know that you know what you are trying to relate…the model must equal reality… look at Carlo Scarpa!… heighten the contrast… examine your go-through spaces… transitions, transitions… destination and presence… the fragment of the place can be conveyed with edges… read your Ching!… go back to your Ching… have you looked at Ching?… edit your ideas… relationships… horizon and landmark… it’s not so much criticism of your work as it is showing you what we read from your project… look for the simplest way to get your point across… gradation versus contrast…. look for Maya Lin’s topography models… foil the complexity… what are the effects of light and shadow?…. is this space habitable?

By the end of class, I was exhausted.  Being creative– actually being called upon to apply every ounce of my creativity at this particular moment– is unbelievably tiring.  If I should be asked to photograph something, fine.  I can slip into a creative spirit easily because I’ve worked with light and shadow my whole life.  But now I am pushing myself to work with new materials, to draw and to sculpt and to design.  The medium is foreign, the concepts are not familiar, and the success is not certain.  When designing, something must make sense to both the designer and the one using said design.  I can make a photograph and you can see it.  It’s likely you will respond to something you see: The shadowplay, the content, the emotive construct somewhere in the depth of field.  But when creating a landscape– especially one of foam core designed for a person 3/4 inch tall– there are many more opportunities for failure, I think, than success.

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About matthewtraucht

Graduate school student at the University of Minnesota's College of Design pursuing a Master's of Landscape Architecture, class of 2013.
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